Yoshitomo Nara is widely recognized as one of Japan's pre-eminent artists, and praised for his sweet yet spiritually independent portrayals of solitary figures and animals. Painted with soft colours, brimming black lines and deliberate roughness echoing the spontaneity and vivacity of children's paintings, his works are deliberately deceptive in their simplistic exterior but brimming with remarkably complex sentiments. Nara has frequently stated that his works are not direct reflections of contemporary art genres of saturated colours, animation and fantasy despite some stylistic similarities which the average devotee of contemporary arts and those wholly unfamiliar still succumb to the ease and comfort of Nara's works. Akin to solitary children of newly minted working class families in the post-war economic development, very much like Nara himself, the likewise disconnected or troubled youth of today derive acutely personal connections to Nara and his works, as if Nara's artworks are direct manifestations of their outlook. The accessibility and recognition of his paintings by a wide breath of audiences thus establishes Nara as part of contemporary pop culture itself. Magic Hand of 1994 (Lot 1033), is an excellent representation of a clear consideration to express emotion that appeals to the audiences, drawing each and every person to revisit past experiences relevant to Nara's depicted subject.
Magic Hand is at first glance rough and simplistic yet upon longer considerations filled with discreet layers of colour and shapes reminiscent of an artist thoroughly deconstructing an image to its simplest and therefore most truthful existence. Nara's application of highly textured, dry, severe black lines carves out the figure, and the background is at once calligraphic and animated like manga, a literary form prevalent in Japan's culture since 1945, of which Nara is an avid reader. These outlines subtly abstract the figure into individually coloured fundamental geometric shapes yet simultaneously binds them; her dress is triangular, her legs and dollar bill are rectangular, like basic building blocks in an approach reminiscent of C/aezanne. In a similar manner, Constantin Brâncui attempted to distill his images and remodel their essence through elegant geometric simplification. In his works, the facial features of the figure are abstracted and their proportion distorted. He once stated: " what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things. "Invariably these artists, like Nara, manifested their inner self through deforming, exaggerating, simplifying and abstracting objective images in their works.
In the wondrous Magic Hand, Nara recreates a familiar moment in time in which a young girl picks up the questionable 10,000 dollar bill with an extended artificial arm. Clothed in a red dress with three gold buttons, her underwear peeks through innocently, giving away her young age and naivet/ae. Yet she is not preen, her dress splattered in black, red and yellow paint as though she has been scavenging the grounds for keepsakes, fearlessly playful and knowingly breaking the rules. Standing with her bowed head, her hair neatly parted and tucked behind her ears, her legs clasp tightly in nervousness as she concentrates on her task at hand. Thoroughly pleased with her success, her small cherry lips curve into a smile. While the task seems mundane and trite, the observer cannot help but smile as well, lauding her in her success while amused at the simple pleasures children find. Nara cleverly conveys a contemplative skepticism in picking up a stranger's lost bill, clearly worth more to the girl than the true value of the cash. She is a reflection of the moral lesson taught to us all: refrain from taking what is not ours, even though pocketing it brings promises of new toys and sweets. This mental struggle is beautifully illustrated in the use of a gadget and not her bare hands as though it was just a bit poisonous, a forbidden and tasty fruit.
Nara's upbringing tinged with animation, pop culture and interest in childhood
experiences, has invariably shaped the unique stylistic qualities in his works in the very same way as the pioneers of modern artistic expression of the 20th century. The deliberate lack of technical skills brought forth from his studies is misleading as
Magic Hand also reveals a skillfully balanced composition seen in the parallel curvature of the girl's head and the green apparatus and the harmonized compilation of subtle shapes. Hi s limited and over lapping palette also aids in the cohesiveness of the composition and becomes a guide for the viewer's eye, articulating depth in a unique and effective manner. Orange, greens and reds are not only seen in its main applied section but also scattered in the legs, dress and as glowing sparks of light in the dark space, drawing the viewer methodically further into the depths of the protagonist's world and filling it with memories of our own.
Magic Hand displays a consistent exploration of human emotions in a vibrant and visually captivating manner, reawakening sentiments and experiences from each and every one of ours past. Within the canvas there is a harmony of angst and happiness and the complexity of human psychology, packaged in his sweet integration of visual associations universally prevalent to the contemporary era. Yoshitomo Nara's young subjects are iconic and effectively represent the very youth of each individual. This ability to appeal to the masses, his embrace of common scenarios and the easily recognizable iconic figures of children is powerfully indicative of Nara's prowess as a communicative artist, deserving of his title as a leading contemporary artist of the 21st Century.